Warrenpoint ambush

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Warrenpoint ambush
Part of The Troubles/Operation Banner
A British Army lorry destroyed in the ambush
Date27 August 1979
16:40 and 17:12 BST
54°6′41.45″N6°16′43.62″W / 54.1115139°N 6.2787833°W / 54.1115139; -6.2787833 Coordinates: 54°6′41.45″N6°16′43.62″W / 54.1115139°N 6.2787833°W / 54.1115139; -6.2787833

Provisional IRA victory

  • Deadliest attack on the British Army by the Provisional IRA. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom IrishRepublicanFlag.png Provisional IRA
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Lt Col David Blair  
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Maj. Peter Fursman  
IrishRepublicanFlag.png Joe Brennan
IrishRepublicanFlag.png Brendan Burns
Units involved
Flag of the British Army (1938-present).svg British Army unknown
50 soldiers unknown
Casualties and losses
18 killed
6 wounded
1 killed
1 wounded

The Warrenpoint ambush [6] [7] [8] or Narrow Water ambush, [9] [10] [11] also called the Warrenpoint massacre [12] [13] [14] or Narrow Water massacre, [15] [16] [17] was a guerrilla attack [18] [19] by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 27 August 1979. The IRA's South Armagh Brigade ambushed the British Army with two large roadside bombs at Narrow Water Castle (near Warrenpoint) in Northern Ireland. The first bomb was aimed at a British Army convoy and the second targeted the reinforcements sent to deal with the incident. IRA volunteers hidden in nearby woodland also allegedly fired on the troops. The castle is on the banks of the Newry River, which marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Guerrilla warfare form of irregular warfare

Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which a small group of combatants, such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility, to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military. Guerrilla groups are a type of violent non-state actor.

Provisional Irish Republican Army Disbanded Irish Republican paramilitary group

The Irish Republican Army, also known as the Provisional Irish Republican Army, was an Irish republican paramilitary organisation that sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland, facilitate the reunification of Ireland and bring about an independent republic encompassing all of Ireland. It was the biggest and most active republican paramilitary group during the Troubles. It saw itself as the successor to the original IRA and called itself simply the Irish Republican Army (IRA), or Óglaigh na hÉireann in Irish, and was broadly referred to as such by others. The IRA was designated an unlawful terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom and an unlawful organisation in the Republic of Ireland.

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.


Eighteen British soldiers were killed and six were seriously injured, making it the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles. An English civilian was also killed and another injured when British soldiers fired across the border after the first blast. The attack happened on the same day that the IRA assassinated The 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

The Troubles Ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland

The Troubles was an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century. Also known internationally as the Northern Ireland conflict, it is sometimes described as an "irregular war" or "low-level war". The conflict began in the late 1960s and is usually deemed to have ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Although the Troubles primarily took place in Northern Ireland, at times the violence spilled over into parts of the Republic of Ireland, England, and mainland Europe.

Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma British statesman and naval officer

Admiral of the Fleet Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, was a British Royal Navy officer and statesman, an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and second cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II. During the Second World War, he was Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command (1943–1946). He was the last Viceroy of India (1947) and the first Governor-General of independent India (1947–1948).


First explosion

At 16:40, a British Army convoy consisting of one Land Rover and two four-ton lorries was driving past Narrow Water Castle on the A2 road. As it passed, a 500-pound (227 kg) fertiliser bomb, hidden in a lorry loaded with strawbales and parked near the castle, was detonated by remote control. The explosion caught the last lorry in the convoy, hurling it on its side and instantly killing six members of 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, whose bodies were scattered across the road. [20] There were only two survivors amongst the soldiers travelling in the lorry; they both received serious injuries. Anthony Wood, nineteen years old, the lorry's driver, was one of those killed. All that remained of Wood's body was his pelvis, which had been welded to the seat by the fierce heat of the blast. [21]

Land Rover former British car company

Land Rover is a luxury car brand that specialises in four-wheel-drive vehicles, owned by British multinational car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover, which has been owned by India's Tata Motors since 2008. The Land Rover is regarded as a British icon, and was granted a Royal Warrant by King George VI in 1951.

Narrow Water Castle

Narrow Water Castle is a famous 16th-century tower house and bawn near Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland. It is beside the A2 road and on the County Down bank of the Clanrye River, which enters Carlingford Lough a mile to the south. Narrow Water Castle was given into state care in 1956. It is a state care historic monument in the townland of Narrow Water, in Newry and Mourne District Council district, at grid ref: J1256 1939.

A2 road (Northern Ireland) road in Northern Ireland

The A2 is a major road in Northern Ireland, a considerable length of which is often referred to the Antrim Coast Road because much of it follows the scenic coastline of County Antrim; other parts of the road follow the coasts in Counties Down and Londonderry.

Immediately after the blast, the soldiers said they were targeted by sniper fire, coming from woods on the other side of the border. [22] [23] Two uninvolved civilians—William Hudson, a 29-year-old from London, and his cousin Barry Hudson, from Dingle—went to the shore on the Republic's side of the border to see what was happening. The pair were partners in Hudson Amusements and had been running their funfair in Omeath at the time. [24] Soldiers fired across the water at them, killing William and wounding Barry. [23] According to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) researchers, the soldiers may have mistaken the sound of ammunition cooking off for enemy gunfire. [25] However, two IRA members arrested by the Gardaí and suspected of being behind the ambush, Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan, had traces of gunsmoke residue on their hands and the motorbike they were riding on. [26]

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of both England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Dingle Town in Munster, Ireland

Dingle is a town in County Kerry, Ireland. The only town on the Dingle Peninsula, it sits on the Atlantic coast, about 50 kilometres (30 mi) southwest of Tralee and 71 kilometres (40 mi) northwest of Killarney.

Traveling carnival travelling show

A traveling carnival, usually simply called a carnival, or travelling funfair is an amusement show that may be made up of amusement rides, food vendors, merchandise vendors, games of chance and skill, thrill acts, and animal acts. A traveling carnival is not set up at a permanent location, like an amusement park or funfair, but is moved from place to place. Its roots are similar to the 19th century circus with both being set up in open fields near or in town and moving to a new location after a period of time. Unlike traditional carnival celebrations, the North American traveling carnival is not tied to a religious observance.

On hearing the first explosion a Royal Marine unit alerted the British Army and reinforcements from other units of the Parachute Regiment were dispatched to the scene by road. A rapid reaction unit, consisting of medical staff and senior commander Lieutenant-Colonel David Blair (the commanding officer of the Queen's Own Highlanders), together with his signaller Lance Corporal Victor MacLeod, were sent by Gazelle helicopter; another helicopter, a Wessex, landed to pick up the wounded. Colonel Blair assumed command once at the site. [27]

A rapid reaction force is a military or police unit designed to respond in very short time frames to emergencies. When used in reference to police forces such as SWAT teams, the time frame is minutes, while in military applications, such as with the use of paratroops or other commandos, the time frame is hours to days.

Aérospatiale Gazelle light helicopter family by Sud Aviation, later Aerospatiale

The Aérospatiale Gazelle is a French five-seat helicopter, commonly used for light transport, scouting and light attack duties. It is powered by a single Turbomeca Astazou turbine engine and was the first helicopter to feature a fenestron tail instead of a conventional tail rotor. It was designed by Sud Aviation, later Aérospatiale, and manufactured in France and the United Kingdom through a joint production agreement with Westland Aircraft. Further manufacturing under license was performed by SOKO in Yugoslavia and the Arab British Helicopter Company (ABHCO) in Egypt.

Westland Wessex British-built turbine-powered development of the Sikorsky H-34

The Westland Wessex was a British-built turbine-powered development of the Sikorsky H-34. It was developed and produced under licence by Westland Aircraft. One of the main changes from Sikorsky's H-34 was the replacement of the piston-engine powerplant with a turboshaft engine; the Wessex was the first large mass-produced helicopter designed around use of a gas turbine engine. Early models were powered by a single Napier Gazelle engine, while later builds used a pair of de Havilland Gnome engines.

Second explosion

The IRA had been studying how the British Army behaved after a bombing and correctly predicted that they would set up an incident command point (ICP) in the gatehouse on the opposite side of the road. At 17:12, thirty-two minutes after the first explosion, an 800-pound (363 kg) bomb hidden in milk pails exploded against the gatehouse, destroying it and hurling lumps of granite through the air. It detonated as the Wessex helicopter was taking off carrying wounded soldiers. The helicopter was damaged by the blast but did not crash. [28]

Narrow Water Castle Narrow Water Tower - geograph.org.uk - 494487.jpg
Narrow Water Castle

The second explosion killed twelve soldiers: ten from the Parachute Regiment and the two from the Queen's Own Highlanders. [29] [30] Mike Jackson, then a major in the Parachute Regiment, was at the scene soon after the second explosion and later described seeing body parts scattered over the road, in the water and hanging from the trees. He was asked to identify the face of his friend, Major Peter Fursman, still recognisable after it had been completely ripped from his head by the explosion and recovered from the water by divers from the Royal Engineers. Only one of Colonel Blair's epaulettes remained to identify him as his body had been vaporised in the blast. [21] The epaulette was taken from the scene by Brigadier David Thorne to a security briefing with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to "illustrate the human factor" of the attack. [31]

Press photographer Peter Molloy, who arrived at the scene after the first explosion, came close to being shot by an angry paratrooper who saw him taking photographs of the dead and dying instead of offering to help the wounded. The soldier was tackled by his comrades. Molloy said, "I was shouted at and called all sorts of things but I understood why. I had trespassed on the worst day of these fellas' lives and taken pictures of it." [32]


The Warrenpoint ambush was a propaganda victory for the IRA. It was the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles and the Parachute Regiment's biggest loss since World War II, with sixteen paratroopers killed. The 1st battalion of the Parachute Regiment was responsible for Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972 where 14 unarmed protesters were shot dead. The IRA made clear it was targeting British paratroopers because of Bloody Sunday. General Sir James Glover, Commander of British forces in Northern Ireland, said it was "arguably the most successful and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign". [33]

The ambush happened on the same day that Lord Louis Mountbatten, a prominent member of the British Royal Family, was killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore, along with three others.

Shortly after the Warrenpoint ambush, IRA volunteers Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan were arrested by Gardaí (the Irish police). They were stopped while riding a motorbike on a road opposite Narrow Water Castle. They were later released on bail due to lack of evidence. [34]

Immediately after the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint attacks, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliated by shooting dead a Catholic man, John Patrick Hardy (43), at his home in Belfast's New Lodge estate. Hardy was targeted in the mistaken belief that he was an IRA member. [35]

According to Toby Harnden, the attack "drove a wedge" between the Army and the RUC. Lieutenant-General Sir Timothy Creasey, General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, suggested to Margaret Thatcher that internment should be brought back and that liaison with the Gardaí should be left in the hands of the military. [36] Sir Kenneth Newman, the RUC Chief Constable, claimed instead that the British Army practice, already in place since 1975, of supplying their garrisons in South County Armagh by helicopter, gave too much freedom of movement to the IRA. [37] [38] One tangible security outcome was the appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield to a new position of Co-ordinator of Security Intelligence in Northern Ireland. His role was to co-ordinate intelligence between the military, MI5 and the RUC. The other was the expansion of the RUC by 1,000 members. [39] Tim Pat Coogan asserts that ultimately, the death of these 18 soldiers hastened the move to Ulsterisation. [40]

Lieutenant-Colonel Blair is remembered on a memorial at Radley School. [41]

Burns was killed in 1988 when a bomb he was transporting exploded prematurely. [42] [43] Brennan was jailed in 1996 on explosives charges not related to Warrenpoint. He was released under the Good Friday Agreement.

See also

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