The Ulster Defence Regiment was created in 1970 by Act of Parliament following recommendations from the Hunt Report. The report was commissioned by the Government of Northern Ireland to: "examine the recruitment, organisation, structure and composition of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the Ulster Special Constabulary and their respective functions and to recommend as necessary what changes are required to provide for the efficient enforcement of law and order in Northern Ireland."
The report, presented in October 1969, recommended that the RUC "should be relieved of all duties of a military nature as soon as possible". Further; a "locally recruited part-time force, under the control of the G.O.C., Northern Ireland, should be raised"... and that the "force, together with the police volunteer reserve, should replace the Ulster Special Constabulary." The report recommended that it be replaced with a force that would be "impartial in every sense" and remove the responsibility of military style operations from the police force."
The Ulster Defence Regiment Act 1969 received Royal Assent on 18 December 1969, and was brought into force on 1 January 1970 by Statutory Instrument, 1969 No. 1860 (C. 58), The Ulster Defence Regiment Act 1969 (Commencement) Order 1969, providing the legal framework for the regiment to be raised.
As a result the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) an infantry regiment of the British Army became operational in 1970, formed on similar lines to other British reserve forces but with the operational role of defence of life or property in Northern Ireland against armed attack or sabotage. The UDR was the largest infantry regiment in the British Army, formed with seven battalions and an extra four added within two years.
The regiment consisted overwhelmingly of part-time volunteers until 1976 when a full time cadre was added and it began with Catholic recruits accounting for 18% of membership.
General Sir John Anderson GCB, KCB DSO (5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards) was appointed as the first Colonel Commandant and the first regimental commander was Brigadier Logan Scott-Bowden CBE DSO OBE MC & Bar (a WW2 veteran).
On 18 February 1970 the first two soldiers to as sign up were a 19-year-old Catholic and a 47-year-old Protestant.
By the end of March 1970, the number of accepted recruits was 2,440 including 946 Catholics.
The primary function of the regiment was to assist the Royal Ulster Constabulary by "guarding key points and installations, to carry out patrols and to establish check points and road blocks" against "armed guerrilla-type attacks". Patrols and vehicle checkpoints on public roads were designed to hinder the activities of paramilitary groups.
As the force was initially predominantly part-time the presence of its members was mostly felt during evenings and weekends. It was expected to answer to general call-outs, and was mobilised on a permanent basis on several occasions such as Operation Motorman to provide manpower assistance to the police and army.
As the regiment evolved into a predominantly full-time unit it assumed more duties previously assigned to the police or Army in support of Operation Banner. By 1980, the full-time element had become the majority and the regiment's role had expanded to include tactical responsibility for 85% of Northern Ireland supporting the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The UDR came be under the direct command of the General Officer Commanding (GOC) Northern Ireland, the commander of the British Army in Northern Ireland. Throughout the existence of the regiment, policy was decided in conjunction with a six-man committee chaired by the Colonel Commandant. Its brief was "to advise the G.O.C. General Officer Commanding, Northern Ireland, on general policy for the administration of the Ulster Defence Regiment, in particular on recruitment policy; and on such specific matters as the G.O.C. might refer to the Council."
The full-time element of the regiment eventually expanded to encompass more than half the total personnel. The UDR was the first infantry regiment in the British Army to fully integrate women into its structure, when Greenfinches (so-called because of the code-name used to identify them by radio) took over clerical and signals duties, which allowed male members of the regiment to return to patrol duties. Greenfinches accompanied many patrols so that female suspects could be searched.
By 1990, the regiment had stabilised its numbers at 3,000 part-time and 3,000 full-time soldiers, with 140 attached regular army personnel in key command and training positions. The standard of training of the permanent cadre soldiers by this time was so high that they were used in much the same way as regular soldiers and it was not uncommon for regular army units to then come under local command and control of a UDR Battalion Headquarters.
As the IRA campaign continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the organisation increasingly targeted RUC officers and Ulster Defence Regiment servicemen, including when they were off duty.
The campaign pursued by the IRA became and remained the major target for anti-terrorist action by the UDR. Although most UDR casualties were ambushed off-duty there were open actions between the regiment and the IRA which varied in style and tactics between the urban setting of Belfast and the rural conditions of what has been referred to as the "Border War".
There were few military style frontal attacks on UDR establishments but some did occur. Most notably that of 2 May 1974 when up to forty IRA men attacked the isolated Deanery at Clogher which was being used as a base by a company from 8 UDR. A sustained attack lasted for approximately twenty minutes during which the base was hit by rockets, mortars and small-arms fire.
Another method of attack was an ambush on rural roads. Commencing with the detonation of an IED which, if successful would knock out one of the two vehicles normally in a patrol the bomb would be followed up by small arms fire. In some cases the nearest available cover (such as hedgerows) would contain another IED which would be detonated if any soldiers sheltered there. During these actions it was not uncommon to have both side exchanging a high volume of small arms fire. The IRA developed a number of home-made mortars. Referred to colloquially as barrack-busters. These were normally deployed by fixing them to the back of a commercial vehicle such as a builder's lorry. The vehicle would be parked in a position near a barracks and the devices fired by timing device or remote controlled detonator sending large missiles made from gas cylinders into the barracks compound. The largest of these devices used was twelve tubes fired at once at 3 UDR's Kilkeel base "The Abbey" in 1992.
Because the UDR did not live in barracks like the soldiers of conventional regiments but instead lived at home, in many cases with families, they were more vulnerable to off-duty attacks. The part time cadre tended to be most at risk as they had day jobs which often took them to unsafe areas. Most of the UDR personnel killed in the Troubles were killed off duty.
Between 1 April 1970 and 30 June 1992, a total of 197 soldiers were killed as active servicemen. Another 61 members were killed after they had left the UDR.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall the United Kingdom began to reduce the size of its armed forced under the working title of Options for Change. The strength of the army was to be reduced from 160,000 to 110,000; the infantry to reduce from 55 battalions to 38. The GOC saw this as a perfect opportunity to streamline the UDR. In a revolutionary plan he decided to merge the UDR with the Royal Irish Rangers; in the opinion of one author for the first time in history incorporating part-time soldiers into the regular army.
"Project Infancy" would also ensure that the Royal Irish Rangers did not lose their training facilities and presence in Northern Ireland as the last Irish infantry battalion of the line. Incorporation as infantry of the line might provide UDR officers with career prospects which mirrored those of the regular army and hopefully resolve the problem of recruiting junior officers. The plan was approved by early summer 1991 and proposed:
• The 2 battalions of the Royal Irish Rangers would amalgamate to create a single "General Service" battalion.
• The existing nine UDR battalions would be reduced to seven and designated "Home Service".
• The part-time element would remain in the Home Service element but the new structure provided for general reduction when the time was right.
• The new regiment would be called the Royal Irish Regiment, reusing a name which had been lost as part of the disbandment of many famous Irish infantry regiments on partition in 1922.
In return the UDR would receive:
• A "royal title".
• A direct line of succession through the regimental name to the Battle of the Boyne and other battles of the Williamite Wars.
When it merged, the UDR had been on active service longer than any regiment since the Napoleonic Wars