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Attack on RUC Birches barracks

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Attack on The Birches RUC barracks
Part of The Troubles
Attack on RUC Birches barracks is located in Northern Ireland
Attack on RUC Birches barracks
Location of The Birches
LocationLua error in Module:WikidataIB at line 665: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
Coordinates54°27′45.02″N 7°1′50″W / 54.4625056°N 7.03056°W / 54.4625056; -7.03056Coordinates: 54°27′45.02″N 7°1′50″W / 54.4625056°N 7.03056°W / 54.4625056; -7.03056
DateLua error in Module:WikidataIB at line 665: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
Attack type
shooting, bombing
Weaponsautomatic rifles
explosive charge
Non-fatal injuries
3 civilians
PerpetratorProvisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade

On 11 August 1986 the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacked the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at The Birches near Portadown, in North Armagh Northern Ireland. The unmanned base was first raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a 200 lb (91 kg) bomb, which was driven through the gate of the base in the bucket of a JCB digger.[1]

Background[edit | edit source]

In 1983 the IRA's Tyrone Brigade killed four members of the Ulster Defence Regiment in the Ballygawley Land Mine Attack.[2]

On 7 December 1985 it launched an Attack on Ballygawley barracks, destroying the RUC base in Ballygawley, killing two RUC officers and wounding three.[3] The attack at Ballygawley was just one in a series of attacks by the South Armagh & East Tyrone brigades of the IRA on RUC/British Army bases in rural areas beginning with the 28 February Newry attack which killed nine RUC officers.[4] On 23 June 1985 the IRA fired four mortars at the Crossmaglen British Army base causing no injuries but damaging the base.[5] Four days after the Ballygawley attack on 11 December 1985 the Tyrone IRA claimed responsibility for mortaring Tynan RUC base, in North Armagh in which four RUC officers were injured. A week later on 19 December the RUC base in Castlederg, in Tyrone, was wrecked by a shell during a mortar attack carried out again by the Tyrone IRA. Seven people were injured, and about 250 families evacuated.[6] [7] The East Tyrone IRA attacked bases in East Tyrone & North Armagh, where the South Armagh brigade attacked bases in South Armagh, South Down and some attack in East Fermanagh. The attack on The Birches was to be the next big attack of the East Tyrone brigades campaign against British security force bases.

Attack[edit | edit source]

It was a complex attack that involved several units including teams of dickers, an armed team and bomb-making experts.[8] Before the attack on the Birches took place a diversionary incident was staged at Pomeroy to draw security forces away from the real target. Another team hijacked a JCB digger, getaway vehicles and scout cars at Washing Bay not far from Dungannon.[8]

A JCB digger would be used to deliver the bomb to its target. The IRA did not expect any resistance as the RUC station was unmanned at the time of the attack. The IRA first raked the base with automatic gunfire while a JCB digger with a bomb in its bucket was driven through the high wire perimeter fence which surrounded the barracks, the fence was suppose to protect the base from grenade attack or anti-tank type weapons. The digger was most likely driven by young IRA volunteer Declan Arthurs from Galbally, County Tyrone, who joined the IRA in 1982 in the wake of the 1981 Irish hunger strike when he was just 16 years old & had experience driving & operating diggers on his families farm.[9] Once the digger smashed through the fence a volunteer lit a fuse and the bomb exploded after the IRA had retreated to safety into a waiting van, the blast destroyed most of the base and also damaged nearby buildings & blew a roof of a bar across the road, the IRA team then made its getaway. According to journalist Mark Urban the armed members of the unit evaded British security force roadblocks by escaping in a boat across the southern end of Lough Neagh.

In total about 35 people were reportedly involved in the Birches attack, from planning, executing the attack & creating an escape route. A partially-disabled American tourist and two local civilians were slightly injured in the blast.[8][10]

File:Article of IRA bomb attacks 1986.jpeg
Newspaper article on the attack & Pomeroy diversion

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

A member of the British security forces who gave Mark Urban a briefing on the Birches barracks said of the attack:

"The Birches RUC station was destroyed by the bomb, creating problems for the authorities about how to re-build it. The Tyrone IRA was able to combine practical skills such as bomb-making and the welding needed to make mortars with considerable resources. Its members went on operations carrying the latest assault rifles and often wore body-amour similar to that used by the security forces, giving them protection against pistol or sub-machine-gun fire. By 1987 they had also succeeded in obtaining night-sights, allowing them to aim weapons or observe their enemy in darkness."[8]

The IRA unit's next major target was the RUC police station at Loughgall. This operation was a disaster for the IRA as the operation ended with the IRA unit being ambushed by the SAS and the whole IRA unit of eight, along with a Catholic civilian, were shot dead.[11] Many of those IRA volunteers killed at Loughgall took part in the attack on the Birches RUC station, like Padraig McKearney, Jim Lynagh & Patrick J Kelly.[12]

News Report[edit | edit source]

  • "IRA attacks on RUC Stations Birches and Ballygawley 1986 - YouTube". youtube.com. Retrieved 3 March 2017.

Sources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Peter Taylor - Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Féin p.315
  2. Malcolm Sutton. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  3. Malcolm Sutton. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  4. http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/cgi-bin/dyndeaths.pl?querytype=date&day=28&month=02&year=1985
  5. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=TslkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=uM8MAAAAIBAJ&pg=4155%2C7502911
  6. The Youngstown Vindicator, 12 December 1985
  7. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=USRbAAAAIBAJ&sjid=dk8NAAAAIBAJ&pg=4352,3338357&dq=mortar+castlederg&hl=en
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Mark Urban. Big Boys' Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle against the IRA, pp. 221-23
  9. Robert W White - Out Of The Ashes: An Oral History On Provisional Irish Republican Movement p.244,245.
  10. Alford, J. (26 February 1987). "The Anglo Irish Agreement - A Legacy of Violence" (PDF). cain.ulst.ac.uk.
  11. Malcolm Sutton. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  12. Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. Penguin Books. p. 314. ISBN 0-14-101041-X.

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